Hi everybody, welcome to podcast Episode #9 of Season 2 of the Mobile Alabama Business Podcast. My name is Marcus Neto and I’m your host. This is a podcast about the people behind the business community here in the Mobile area. I know you have a lot of choices when it come to podcasts so I’d like to thank you for spending time with us today.
In this episode we had a chance to sit down with Jim Walker. Jim is the owner of several hot spot restaurants on Dauphin Street. He owns the Bicycle Shop, Liquid Sushi, and The Union. What I did not know prior to starting this interview was that he is also a major part of the Roundhouse incubator that is gaining traction in Mobile. The conversation shows how big Jim’s heart is for Mobile. He really does love this city.
So let’s dive right in with Jim Walker.
Marcus: Welcome to the podcast Jim and Austin.
Jim: Thanks very much.
Austin: Thank you.
Marcus: Well, before we get started, I wanted to tell you a funny story. I have a friend that I work out with and I'm not going to mention his name because I don't want to embarrass him but I remember mentioning to him that I'd had, we were talking about Mexican food, and I said, "Well, there's this place downtown called the Bike Shop, Bicycle Shop," and I mentioned to him that I had eaten there and that I really liked the tacos. Now, this guy's a little bit older and his comment to me was, "Yeah, I think I remember actually buying one of my first bikes from the Bicycle Shop." I have no frame of reference because I haven't lived here that long but how long, I mean, you've owned this building for a while. How long ago was that, that he may have purchased a bike there?
Jim: I want to say Mr. Tomland approached me about buying it in 91 is when I first got involved with it. A doctor bought it, Steve Pardon, he beat me to the original punch and then Mr. Tomland, he came back and said, "Man, I really want you to open a bar." That's what I ... We were in business together down here when he had the original shop but from 1921 to 1976, when Sears opened, it was the only place in Mobile or Baldwin County that you could get an assembled bicycle. I'm sure as kids, you know, walking in, there's all the bikes and they would ...
Marcus: That is so cool. Have you actually run the Bicycle Shop you said since 90 ...
Jim: No, I've owned the property. It was weird, we were trying to figure out the other day and I think we've run it about eighteen years, eighteen and a half years.
Marcus: That's a really long time, especially in the food services industry so it's not just the Bicycle Shop, it's the Union, Liquid and are there any other restaurants that I'm not aware of?
Jim: Well, we're trying to open the old Panini Pizza as a ... I'm actually naming it after a great friend of mine and it's going to be Italian food. We've got some ... It's really a nice place. We went in and totally remodeled it.
Marcus: Very cool.
Jim: It's going to be the nicest place as far as casual that I've ever done.
Marcus: Very cool. Now, as I mentioned before hand, we eat at Bicycle Shop, you know, weekly. The tacos are some of my favorite in the area so I'm excited to get to know you a little bit more through this podcast and stuff so, tell me how did you get started in the food services industry because it's not an easy ... We've talked to a number of chefs on this podcast. It is not an easy industry.
Jim: Yeah, it' not. Plus too, I've never claimed to be a chef.
Jim: I'm more of a facilities guy. I got started in it because I was on the bell stand at the Grand Hotel. That's how I got in the service business totally. We were in Fair Hope and someone said, "If you all want a real challenge, go to downtown Mobile." This was in 86. They said, "It's the roughest place you've ever been in your life." We loaded up. We had a 68 Ford truck, no AC. We load up all the guns. We're hillbillies from the hills of Arkansas thinking that we're coming to downtown Detroit or something, that would be a good comparable.
Jim: We lived at 99 North Main in Memphis in the 70s, in the 60s and 70s.
Marcus: Which was not easy.
Jim: It was rough. We got here and the first thing out of the tunnel where the courthouse is now was a Greyhound Bus Station, beautiful art deco building. In Memphis, that's kind of a rough area, San Francisco it's a rough area, so we got out, walked around, looked at it and we started doing four block circles. Then, we increased it to eight blocks and I said, "Man, you all got rough and abandoned mixed up." There were four little factions of people that were kind of breaking in stuff and doing stuff but we found the house on Church Street, which I still live in today from 87.
Marcus: Was the draw to come here and actually work in the kitchen at ...
Jim: No, the draw for us was, we were in Fairhope and Woody and I were just twenty years old and we kept getting thrown out of neighborhoods and apartments for partying so we came to Mobile and I think my little brother was seventeen and I was twenty when we bought our first house. It was a, there were twenty-seven people living in it. It was abandoned, totally covered in Kudzu. You couldn't even see any frame structure. It looked like Sigmund the Sea Monster. It was totally covered in Kudzu.
We were sitting on the porch smoking a joint on Joe Cain Day as kids and I said, downtown was totally shut down partying like rock stars and I said, "It doesn't look like they'll throw us out of here," and he was like, "What do you mean?" I said, "Well, let's look around for a house," and he goes, "I think this place is for sale." We literally tore Kudzu back and found the sign and the Realtor actually sent us a key in the mail to Fairhope to look at it because she wouldn't come down here. She said, "Send the key back." I was like, "What?" She goes, you know, "I'm not going down there. It's too rough." I was like, "Man, they all are." It really was abandoned, you know.
Marcus: There's still some remnants of that kind of feeling but I mean Mobile has changed so drastically. I've only lived here since 2004. Mobile has changed so drastically even just in the last ten years that people are really surprised when I tell them about all the stuff that's going on down here. It's just ...
Jim: Well, it's amazing the people that cherish downtown Mobile are not from Mobile. I'm from the hills of Arkansas. I'm sure that you're ...
Marcus: Yeah, from Washington, D.C.
Austin: I'm from the City of Miami and I love it here.
Jim: Everybody who cherishes downtown and you know, it's like Elizabeth Stephens. She's from, I think, Charleston. She now lives on Cedar Street in my neighborhood. I mean, there's a couple of exceptions but not a lot. Like Arthur Madden, he's down here. He's from Minnesota. It's weird that you run into people that, they're from a different part of the world that really know the gem that you have, you know?
Marcus: Well, there's a gem and I think it can't be understated, or can't be overstated, the importance of a vibrant downtown to this area.
Jim: Well, to the heart of the city.
Jim: A downtown, I mean if you've traveled much, which I've traveled all over the world, and the first place I go is the heart of the city, the downtown, to see what's going on, see what the vibe is, the kids are usually downtown. It's like one of the things Steve Nodine did when he was on the city counsel is banned skateboarding downtown. Then, he said he was a skateboarder and I was like, "Let's see you ride a skateboard across the atrium." He goes, "I've got a knee injury." I mean, people are just hostile toward the kids back in the early 90s. I was like, "Wow." We just paved all the streets, why not let them use them. They're not being used.
Marcus: They're not being used for anything else. Well, I think one of the things I see happening down here though is I see an increase in the restaurants, the restaurateurs that are moving to the downtown area and I'm wondering if, I mean and I haven't, well I can say that in D.C. there was southeast D.C., which was the crack capital of the world and the murder capital of the world while I was growing up. It's the area where Marian Berry was caught with a prostitute, smoking crack, you know, when we all know the story there. Needless to say, it was a rough area but I used to go to clubs down there and stuff like that and it was, it wasn't until the FBI moved their outpost down to that area and it kind of got rid of some of that faction, and then other businesses started moving down in that area. That's my only experience with like a blighted area being brought back to life.
The way I see it happening down here is that there have been some businesses down here but it's really the restaurants that are moving in, the hospitality that's moving in and then, other businesses like my own, have been starting to kind of follow that as kind of a second wave. Are you seeing or experiencing, are you thinking the same thing or ...
Jim: Yeah, I mean that's kind of the way it goes, you know. You get the bars because it attracts the young people. That's kind of the same way downtown Memphis did it. They had bars and restaurants because it's going to attract the young people. All of the sudden the young people want to be near the bars and restaurants, they start moving in and ...
Marcus: Changes the face of the area.
Jim: It's always the art community and restaurants, in my opinion.
Marcus: Yeah. No, I see that same thing. We're in a mixed use building and there are a lot of young people that I see living here but you talk to some people in the area and you say, "Hey, have you eaten at that restaurant downtown?" They're like, 'No, I haven't been over to Mobile, especially because I live over on the eastern shore. I haven't been over to Mobile in six months or something like that."
Austin: My cousin's from Daphne and we've come up here a million times to come and visit them. Never had come into the city of Mobile until just now, honestly. I think a big issue was, we've got USA right here and you've got Spring Hill and they're having a huge brain drain of the young people because there's no jobs for them, because there's no restaurants, there's no bars or clubs or places or people, like Jim, that will help them out right after college when they may not have all the three to five years of experience that every job wants you to have coming straight out of college, you know.
Marcus: Well, okay. Let's get back on track because I kind of took us down a bunny trail there. Owning, like I said, owning a restaurant is not an easy line of work. Are there areas of the business that you're putting a lot of effort into, or after eighteen years, is it kind of leveled out? Is it all smooth sailing?
Jim: I got asked this question yesterday and it was a guy who's on my team for Stimpson, Terrance Smith, and he said, "Hey man, is all the stress and all the hours and everything worth it, for the monetary gain?" I was like, "Absolutely not." He was like, "What do you mean?" I said, "I do it to employ people." I said, "I do it for my sense to the community of having," I think I've got fifty-two people right now and I've got a couple that do one shift because they can't, they've just had a newborn, they can't make the bills meet and the Friday night means a lot to them, or the Sunday, or whatever it is, they've got one shift so it sounds like an outrageous amount of people, but that's my sense to it. I could actually lease out a couple of the things I own down here and make more money and head out of the community. I've just always had a sense of community since I moved in.
It's like, I love to see the people progress. It's like I tell everybody, "I know that you're a stepping stone for me, but I want to see you move up." There's a couple times that people were leaving me and I was like, "Hey man, this is not a move up. I'll see you in about a month." Everybody laughs because if you turn in two weeks with me, you can come back no matter what and you can quit the day of if it's something that you've had that's hit, you know, that you've got that's ... Just like a couple of newbie kids.
Marcus: You know it's been a big deal to them.
Jim: Yeah, kids pursuing their dream, that's like we got invested in Limo Ride with Carson, our main bartender, and we were the producers of the movie. Everybody goes, "Why would you do that?" I said, "He's following his dream." I think that kids, getting them up and going, it's a huge step for them an plus too, if you give them the environment where they can thrive and they know that they can follow their dreams, it just helps. It helps on both sides.
Marcus: That is so cool, man. You mentioned something to me earlier that I was not aware of, that you're involved in the Round House.
Marcus: Is it Round House Project, Round House ...
Jim: Round House L.A. here. We're Alabama but Round House L.A.
Marcus: Okay. Tell audience a little bit about what that idea is and what's going on with it.
Jim: Well, it gets back to the movie I was talking about with Carson, Limo Ride. We were in Opalaka and we, the movie was to going on a brewery and distillery tour of Alabama. I was the only person who actually played myself in the movie so I was trying to go and help Carson with question answer and to help him develop a following for Limo Ride. I had a couple friends I've known thirty plus years that were in Opalaka and they were in the Round House. One was a business partner and the other one was a tenant. I was listing ideas like, "Man, Mobile's starving for this." I went and talked to Kyle and Grady about it, John Brandt and Austin. I was like, "You know, Mobile's starving for this." They were like, "Man, Mobile's not in our top fifteen markets." I was like, "Man, what have I got to do to get you to come to Mobile?" They said, "We kind of have got Columbus, Mississippi." They went through the markets that they had and I was like, "Man, we're just ripe for this." They gave me some parameters and my friend, John Brandt, who you ... The Supper Club, the War Eagle Supper Club in Auburn, he said, "How do you know how to tell you all my friends are full of BS and this guy's as serious as a heart attack." He said, "He'll move heaven and earth to help." He goes, "Because he's helped me on a moment's notice when he didn't have the time or the resources."
Kyle said, "You know, when do you want to do it?" I was like, "That's up to you all." Then, he came down on a Monday with his crew and the Mayor's office with Colby Kucker, they were gracious enough to take us short notice appointment. I think it moved two or three times, his assistant, Karen called us and he rolled out the red carpet. He was like, "Yeah, Mobile is starving for this." They Mayor was talking about Portal and I was unaware about Portal but Portal's not even open and they were like, "Well, when are you all trying to open?" I said, "Well, I want to open Wednesday." Everybody was laughing at me. It was in March and I was like, "The weather's right." Somebody had stole all the AC equipment out of it. I said, "I can work around everybody." They had stolen all the copper and everything out of the building. I said, "I can work around everybody and get it open." Then, Kyle goes, "Man, are you serious?" I was like, "Yeah." I said, "You know, this community is starving for it."
It gets back to the youth, the retention of the youth in our community.
Jim: Our youth go to school here. They go to South. They go to Spring Hill and they leave. It's like I've got a great friend, I wish I'd have called and asked him if I could tell his story but he's with a pharmaceutical company in Switzerland. Well, he's making $460,000.00 a year. He was here. He wanted to stay here. There's nothing for him to develop, where he can develop his idea and once I saw this, and I've been wanting to do an incubator since Katrina, because I went to the insurance adjusting business, had a ton of cash. Instead of putting it in real estate I wanted to put it in the incubator and have seed money for the kids. I got a couple kids up and going in a computer business and then, they double back on me with a forensic accountant. Then you know, one kid, I told him, I said, "You're too cheap." He was at $20.00 an hour. I said, "Go to $150.00 an hour. You'll be packed." Americans have a perception of worth and then once I realized that the youth were starving for something and then I ran into this, I just stood on Kyle to do it.
Marcus: Yeah, I mean, it's a really cool thing to see the changes that are happening in our community. I was, and this podcast won't be released for a couple of months so, I was in an executive board meeting for the Chamber of Commerce over on the eastern shore yesterday because I'm on the Executive Board. One of the guys there, Steve Carey, who's also been on the podcast, said that there's a change that's happening in that community but I would argue that that change isn't just about the eastern shore, it's also Mobile and the eastern shore is feeling that impact. The change is that we're going from a small mom and pop to a truly business oriented environment here. We're kind of growing up and we're starting to see business owners that aren't just wanting to get along, but they're wanting to kind of like, "Hey, I want to do something. I want to make something. I want to do something big and I want to impact more than just myself. I don't want to just provide for my family. I want to impact the world," right?
There's no reason why people can't do that here. The reason why I'm so involved in all these organizations and why we even do this is, I went to, I've been to Portland and lived in D.C. Went to Seattle. I've been, lived in, well didn't live in Atlanta, but spent a lot of time in Atlanta and, but the one place that I went to, where this really kind of took root, and I'm going someplace with this, was Huntsville. There was this real big desire and Antonio Montoya is a friend of mine and he started the Rocket Hatch Group out of Huntsville. There's always been this desire to see Mobile come to a place where they appreciate what the young people, these ideas that they're coming up with. People shouldn't have to go to San Francisco. They shouldn't have to go to New York City. They should be able to stay in Mobile where they're family is and still come up with these really great ideas and take them and run with them.
Projects like Round House, the St. Louie Street Project and some of the other things that are going on in the city, they're all affirming that desire of these people to chase after their dreams and so kudos to you for being a part of that. It's not like any one of those, by themselves, may succeed or may not succeed but the more that there are, it's like all rising, what is the saying? Rising ships, you know ... [crosstalk 00:18:29]. The tide rises all ships, yeah.
I think there's something, if it was just one, it would be kind of like, is it going to make it, but the fact that there are multiple people having that same feeling, says that there's something changing about our community and that's cool.
Jim: Oh yeah.
Austin: Well, we've seen and why Kyle started the incubator in Opalaka is, he worked over in San Francisco for a while, for Google. He loved it over there but what he really found was, there's entrepreneurial spirit everywhere. You don't become Jim, you don't become yourself just having to be in San Francisco to do it. We saw it expanding to the Valley. We saw it expanding to other places. Kyle ended up moving down to Opalaka. Four years ago, when I moved up to Auburn, that was coming from a commercial mortgaging background, that was all but ready to be bulldozed. The community of Opalaka said, "Hey, we're going to put thirty million dollars into fiber Internet.
Marcus: The one place that I didn't mention was Chattanooga. I went to Chattanooga and the start up community there is also pouring into Huntsville. It's kind of, there's this triangle thing that's happening up in Tennessee/Northern Alabama, but the experience there was that they poured a bunch of money into fiber and it boomed. The tech just completely boomed. It's changed Chattanooga drastically.
Austin: When you think about it, it's better for a tech start up to be in the southeast and to be in this area because your burn rate, the amount of money that you are going through of your investment per month, is going to drop significantly. You're paying for $2,000, $3000 dollars a month for rent in San Fran, even at a house where you're living with six other people.
Austin: The money is drained out. There's more capital available here and people that have come to the idea that tech start ups and things like that aren't the crazy monster of a business that they may have previously thought they were, being in more of a conservative market over here. That coming around has provided a lot of opportunity for young people like myself and for investors and other people wanting to help those start ups come to fruition.
Marcus: What's the vision. I mean, when is it, has it opened yet?
Jim: Yeah, we did a soft opening on June 1.
Marcus: Very good.
Jim: Yeah. I was over there, actually pulling wire. My master electrician pulled a permit for me and I had a journeyman card, electrical as a kid and a journeyman plumber and a journeyman HVAC. All my guys were gracious enough to, because I was out of cash. They were like, "Dude, we'll help you anyway we can," you know so I explained it to them. We actually made the June 1st deadline.
Marcus: Very cool. What in the, where are you with it now? Are there ...
Jim: There's two tenants. I have two tenants and I wish I'd have brought a rate sheet but it's like $130.00 a month, you know, to $250.00. You get an office or you know, it's a community membership. It's not a lease. It's not rent. It's just to be part of the community. You come and go. I live, I'm literally the next building is my personal residence. It's the back of the Hardee's parking lot, a vacant lot, my personal residence.
Jim: From the actual facility, so I'm kind of in and out 24/7, you know?
Marcus: Who are the two tenants? Are they businesses that you can talk about?
Austin: It's Nick, who is actually working on a start up. We're accepting pitches now. We've had a few people come in and actually had one this morning that was pretty interesting. I'm not allowed to talk about what it is, but ... Yeah, we're having tenants come in. We're going to be down here a good bit comparatively to Opalaka right now because we're trying to get everything started, get the community building. We're really looking with industry, a lot of industry is moving down here with AirBus and other things, we think it will be a unique market comparatively to Opalaka, where you're going to have a lot more ... Opalaka has the fiber, you're going to have a lot more tech start ups. Down here you're going to have a lot more industry oriented start ups that may not come to us because the start ups are really a product of a problem that someone sees in their industry and then they go, "Oh man, I can solve that easily."
Jim: We've had one guy that came in and I misunderstood what he actually needed. He needed us to develop his idea as far as just a plug and play software. Once he got through with the pitch, I was like, "Man, I think I'm misunderstanding what's going on." He said, "Man, I'm just needing you to get me to this point." I said, "Well, we'll come up with a fee and we'll knock it out. I didn't understand, I thought you were needing additional help." This is the email I received and I said, "You didn't explain it well enough for me." I said, "No big deal."
We will help just anybody do anything. The cool thing is that if anybody knows me, I've helped a ton of people.
Marcus: Yeah. I just think that's really cool to here because I ... Until you mentioned it a minute ago, I had kind of heard rumblings of what Round House and what it was going to be, but I'm glad to actually get a little bit more information. It's exciting to see what's going on in this city, man. I tell you what.
Jim: I think a lot of it to, I wanted to lend to the culture of the Mayor's office. Stimpson does not need a job. Stimpson was President of Gulf Lumber and he's also doing it as sense to community. It's like my City Councilman, Levon Mansey. The other day I was on the street and I had a guy I had helped in my neighborhood that had been, he'd been wronged by the City. He'd been in prison twelve days because of the condition of his porch. I was actually in court.
Marcus: Wait, he was imprisoned for twelve days because of his porch?
Jim: Correct. I found out about it because a judge, who was on the Mobile Historic Development Commission was holding me in contempt. He would give me a list of stuff to do every two weeks. I had to go to court every other Tuesday for twenty-eight times. He told the judge, who I believe was inebriated, said, "I'm going to throw you in jail like your neighbor." I said, "Which one of my neighbors is going to jail?" I stopped and told Mansey the story and I was like, "Man, I'd like that guy's record expunged." Mansey stops what he's doing, gets out of his truck. He goes, "What happened?" I tell my City Councilman, he's already been in contact with me four different occasions over that issue because he has a sense of community too.
It's the whole dynamic has changed from certain people being able to do certain things to where we're going to have a fair and equal playing field.
Marcus: A more inclusive business environment or just living environment.
Jim: Also, too, back to your fiber idea. Andy Newton is with ...
Marcus: I know, I was getting ready to say, "Hey Andy are you listening to this? You could impact this area a lot."
Jim: We were actually in an article together in [inaudible 00:25:40]. I've known Andy a long time. What Andy has accomplished in this market's amazing. I talked to Colby Cooper and the Mayor and I said, "Do you know that Southern Light's number one problem market on getting a construction permit is Mobile, Alabama? Colby looked at me and he was just like, "Man, you're kidding me." I said, "That's what's been told to me. I've been in three meetings where that's been discussed by somebody with Southern Light." I said, "Of all businesses that are having problems, we're slowing down Southern Light who's on fire." I can't get this at all.
Marcus: That business, Andy has the ability to completely change his community but also has the ... I wish I had his business, quite honestly, because ...
Jim: Well, everybody does now.
Marcus: Yeah, I mean I'm sure it's not all rainbows and unicorns but at the same time, leaving D.C. where now, every, just about every house has a hundred megabit through put, down and up, through Verizon, Fios or any of the providers. One of the reasons why we moved downtown was because the Internet access is much faster and much more reliable downtown than it is on the eastern shore. I could only get 3 megabit through put and that's down. Then, it was like .3 up. Well, we're a web based company. We're uploading files all day long. I'm going to upload a gigabyte of audio after we record the podcast for today. We're going to upload a gigabyte of audio up to a server. You can't do that on a .3 megabyte.
Jim: That's why we signed a contract with him for a gig, up and down.
Austin: Once you get used to a gig up and down, there's no going back.
Marcus: There's nothing quite like it.
Jim: He said he could ...
Austin: I go from work to home and I'm going crazy.
Marcus: Yeah, because that's what Chattanooga has. They have fiber so it's ...
Jim: So does Opalaka. The City owns it.
Austin: Opalaka's unique that their power and electric services owns their own fiber. It was just a City decision, "Hey do we want this or do we not?" The decision was do we want Auburn students to leave Auburn and stay in Opalaka or do we want them to go wherever they leave at that point?
Jim: Yeah, because Andy can bring us ten at the flip of a switch now, 10 gig up and down, I mean that's stout.
Marcus: Yeah, that's no joke. All right, so we've completely gone off the rails. I usually have a lot of questions but you threw me for a curve because I'm just so excited about what you've shared with us.
Let's go back. What's your favorite meal?
Jim: My favorite meal, it depends really but I'm more of a ... I'm a home cook country style person, you know?
Jim: It's weird because a bunch of my guys at work, they'll request me to cook something, just like the other day, I cooked jambalaya. I cooked jambalaya and they were like, "Well, it doesn't taste the same as last time." I was like, "Well, I don't use a recipe. I just kind of cook it for what I have." My brother's a fantastic cook, so is my bride. It's interesting what's around the house. It's like last night, it was fresh green beans, silver queen corn, falapfel, a spinach walnut raspberry vinaigrette salad, you know what I mean? It's just like you may be having something but it's all fresh, you know? It's kind of cool but I don't have really a favorite meal since my grandmothers and stuff have passed. I had a one dish meal that my great-granny made that was like beans and rice and ground up meats. It was just basically like a jambalaya for hillbillys.
Marcus: My family is from Brazil and so it's black beans and rice and you know, stuff like that.
Jim: Sure, yellow rice.
Marcus: I think every culture has their bean dish.
Austin: Growing up in Miami, it's black beans and rice a hundred percent, yeah.
Marcus: You've got to have a banana with it too.
Jim: That's my bride's favorite thing is the way I cook black beans. I'll take great pride in it. It's interesting that everybody does have a bean thing, you know? Gives it proteins.
Marcus: Yeah. It is really [crosstalk 00:29:58]. What are two of the last books that you've read that have been helpful. I'll open that up even just to say, what resources do you use on a regular basis, website, you know, organizations, whatever?
Jim: In the restaurant business I try to keep up with what's going on per the industry downtown. It's like when I start screaming about the tip out. I watched the case on a restaurant news about Starbuck's getting popped for fifty-six million dollars because everybody was, the hourly employees and the tipped wage employees were sharing in the tip pool. Everybody down here, we had a culture that we had a percentage of sales and then once I found out it was against federal law, I tried to inform everybody. Everybody kind of shunned me on, "Well, let's not come to Alabama, let's not come to Alabama." I said, "Well, you know, we're a tort state." The litigation, there's going to be some lawyer pick it up and run with the ball. It's low hanging fruit and everybody thought I was screaming the sky's falling, you know, Chicken Little. Then, we missed it by eleven days for the statute of limitations. Several of the places down here got popped and it's, I try to watch my industry as a whole, down here.
When there's a problem, everybody kind of comes to me because I've been in the business so long and I try to nurture the context, to protect the food and beverage industry downtown. I was speaking before the City Council, it's probably been six, eight years ago, and I said my industry, food and beverage, and one of the City Councilmen said, "Food and beverage is not an industry." I sat down. It took all the wind out of my sails because these are my local representatives and it was the only business with a U.S. Chamber of Commerce labor data, food and beverage was the only growth segment that year in the U.S. economy. I'm being told by one of the City Councilmen, whose gone now, that food and beverage is not an industry. It just floored me.
I try to read, you can ask my bride, there's fifty books laying around the house that I'm reading all the time. I try to stay on top of the industry trades. It's like my little brother. I'll find a book on the table. Lately, I've been reading China Study because my little brother's not an avid reader, so I'll see something on the table and I'll say, "Hey read this. Tell me what it's about," and it'll be from my Uncle Pete or my wife or Woody. I love to read. I'll read til 4:00 or 5:00 in the morning.
Marcus: That's wild. What advice might you give somebody that was looking to start a business and you can even say, specifically, like if I was looking to start a business downtown Mobile, what advise would you give somebody in that? It can be food. It can be whatever.
Jim: Well, it's odd. I had a retired person approach me and this was not to do with Round House so I don't have a confidentiality agreement. He approached me about doing a hardware store. I was like, "Well, you know, we've got Universal Hardware but there was a hardware store on Dauphin Street and it was super successful." I said, "You need to determine the hours and let's go look at a couple of hardware stores, you know, what you're talking about." I talked to my little brother. We decided there's a hardware store in the French Quarter, New Orleans. He and I took a day trip. My little brother went too, Woody went with us. We looked at it. He was like, and I would say, "What do you perceive for floor inventory? What's going to be your percentage of shrink?" He was like, "Well man, I just don't understand those terms." I said, "Well, you know, shrink, shoplifting." I said, "Let's talk to him at the close of business and see what it is."
I would say in business, find something, just like this, you're passionate about it. Find something that you enjoy that you can either manage or if you want to be the work load, you want to do the blue collar thing, it's like a friend of mine opened a plumbing company, super successful. It's just finding ...
Marcus: Anymore, it doesn't matter what it is that you do, you can still be tremendously successful.
Jim: That's like Bloomberg. We got a Bloomberg grant money and I was listening to Bloomberg and I'd never really read that much about Bloomberg and they asked him, they said, "If you didn't, hadn't taken the path, what would you be?" He said, "A plumber." I was like, "Wow, plumber." He goes, "You're never going to run out of work. You make a decently hourly wage. You can do new construction, remodel." He goes into this great detail and I was like, "Wow."
Marcus: He's thought about it, in other words. It's not just something, you know, like somebody caught him off guard. He's like ...
Jim: Right, and it's odd because everybody discounts the trades, like electricians. I've got some friends that I've helped get started in electrical, just like my friend, David White. He's got White Electric. His first week he went out on his own, I had this generator switch and all this stuff I was wanting to do, a project. I was like, "Hey man, come knock it out." Now, he's super successful. It's his passion. He loves the trade.
Marcus: Have you ever seen any of what Mike Rowe is doing, from Dirty Jobs?
Marcus: Mike Rowe, his foundation? It's been really cool to be educated because quite honestly, I didn't know. For all intents and purposes, I should have been going down that path of being a plumber or electrician or something along those lines. I've been listening to him and he's talking, and I think I've even talked to some people at [inaudible 00:35:33], where they're offering very, very good salaries for people that want to come and learn how to weld, you know, stuff like that.
Jim: Actually, that's one of my hobbies is welding.
Marcus: Well, you know what I'm passionate about? Ice cream. We should talk afterwards. All right, so what do you like to do in your free time is kind of a running joke here on the podcast because most of us don't have that much but we all have something that we ...
Jim: That's weird, this year is the first year I've missed Summerfest, which is Milwaukee. I always go to SummerFest. It's the largest music festival in the world and I'm missing it because what I've done with Round House. I actually talked to my family, meaning my brother and my wife, pre-investing in Round House, "Hey man, do I need to save out some coin so we can still go to Milwaukee?" Everybody goes, "No, we'll skip it this year." I think it's the first time in fifteen years. I get away for ten days and it's seventy-five degrees. It's the largest music festival in the world, laid up in a hotel, you know.
Marcus: Yeah, just having fun.
Jim: Yeah, just having fun, ripping it to bits. My best friend in the world was, he's still the Director of Trauma at Loyola in Chicago, but he was here at USA and he and I went. It was great for both of us because his kids come in, meaning his students. Everybody talks to the kids that are coming in and his program in trauma and just build him up to be this monster and we're off to Milwaukee having fun, you know.
Marcus: If they only knew.
Jim: That's the only time he gets to let loose period.
Marcus: Tell us where people can find you?
Jim: I'm usually within about a six block radius really. I mean I'm at the Bike Shop or I'm at the house. It's nine hundred and sixty feet away and then Round House is about another four hundred feet. It's like here. I walked here today and we were walking through all the parks. We walked through Spanish Plaza and we came up and I said, "Man, 412." I took a left and it was like Hoffman Furniture ...
Marcus: We're a direct line from the Chamber, which is cool. I love the location.
Jim: I mean, it's like last year, my accountant goes, "Man, you can't turn in three thousand and eighty miles on a vehicle for total mileage, man." I walk everywhere I go and if I need to go somewhere I get on the Megabus and go to the Atlanta Airport.
Marcus: There you go. In regards to the businesses, Bike Shop, Liquid, The Union and if somebody wanted information, say there's somebody out listening, they've got this idea they want to chase it. Where to they get information about Round House?
Jim: Round House on the web. Roundhouseoa.com or Roundhousela.com.
Marcus: Then, Facebook, Twitter, any of those.
Austin: All of those.
Jim: Robin is super sharp. She was, she's an old friend of our families and when I was looking for a community manager, Emily Bozz is the community manager in Opalaka, who is a pinnacle of all of us. She's just got this great energy. When I first met her, that's what really turned me on to Round House. It was odd because one of the guys in Round House, he was putting an ad on Craig's List and I said, "Dude, I got two people that we need to interview in Mobile, Alabama for a community manager." He goes, "No, we've got fourteen hundred applicants." I said, "I've got two people that we need to interview for community manager."
Marcus: Well yeah, now you know.
Jim: Yeah, and then I went to Emily and I said, "Emily, I've got these two people." She was like, "Yeah." Then, she came down and they sent her down here solo, which I loved. Me and her went and walked everywhere. We hung out for three days. I walked her around in the middle of the night. We hung out at Haley's. Some girl was going the wrong way up Dauphin Street and hit a cop at the corner. I walked out and got her out of a DUI and striking a police officer on foot.
Marcus: Oh, come on.
Jim: I was like, "Hey man, we're going to take this girl home." Emily goes, and the girl came into the bar we were drinking at and she was just like, "You know, am I in trouble?" I'm like, "Yeah. You were going the wrong way and you struck a cop on foot. Yeah, you're in trouble. Just sit there. We'll drive you home." I went out and spoke to the police officer and he goes, "Man, you got it?" I said, "yeah, a hundred percent." At that moment me and Emily, she was like, "You know, you got this?" I said, "Yeah, man. I just need the guidance, you know." I think that that's being part of the community like you all are doing. It's just a huge intrical part of success.
Marcus: Awesome. Well, just to wrap up, I want to thank you for coming on the podcast.
Jim: Yeah, man, greatly appreciate it.
Marcus: We never met before so getting an email out of the blue, but I appreciate you taking time to come out and talk to ...
Jim: Also, I think the world of Scott Tindle.
Marcus: We'll he's a pretty rocking dude so ...
Jim: Yeah, I went on his little duck tour thing too.
Marcus: Yeah, we're going away this weekend but within the next couple of weeks I hope to take a couple of the fellows here and go for a trip because I think that would be a blast but do you have any final thoughts or comments you'd like to share?
Jim: No, I just, I mean, I think that the young people in Mobile, it's like when Bobby [inaudible 00:40:42] a couple years ago asked me to be on the Bayfest committee because I was young. I was like, "I'm fifty. Get some of the twenty year olds. I can send you somebody." I think that the young spirit and the young people in Mobile are fixing to thrive and I wish that it was happening when I was twenty and I was trying to do everything but I was always looked at as a little kid that didn't know anything. Now, all of the sudden, everything that I thought would happen from 87 to 93 is happening and I'm thrilled with it. If I can help, I'm going to help, you know?
Marcus: I was going to say, you're kind of taking part in it and it's kind of cool the position that you've been put in.
Jim: Oh, I love it.
Marcus: Yeah, I think that's exciting.
Jim: I've worked at it to get there and it's like, I mean the Mayor's office, when Colby was like, "Well, how do we help?" I mean, it set me back. The present mayoral administration, like I told him, I said, "You're the seventh Republican I've voted for in my life." I've abstained from voting against people but you know, I was raised by women and you know, that's always, my politics have been the left because of women's rights.
Jim: I've been thrilled with, I mean, they're just on fire.
Marcus: Yeah, it's exciting to see.
Jim: Yeah, it's beautiful.
Marcus: Well, I appreciate your willingness to sit with me and share your journey as a business owner and it's been great talking with both of you.
Jim: Yeah, mutual, very mutual.
Austin: Thank you.